Friday, June 17, 2011

Man from Atlantis (1977)

          The first of four telefilms that introduced the lead character of a subsequent (and short-lived) series bearing the same name, Man from Atlantis is a no-nonsense fantasy that neither oversells its ludicrous premise by trying for heavy drama nor undercuts the premise by opting for camp. Patrick Duffy, later of Dallas fame, plays Mark Harris, a mystery man who washes ashore and seems close to death until marine researcher Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda Montgomery) dunks him in the ocean, where the water revives him. Turns out Mark is an unprecedented man/fish hybrid with incredible underwater powers—he ended up on the beach after a knock on the noggin rendered him unconscious—so the stalwart Navy admiral (Art Lund) who oversees Elizabeth’s funding quickly recruits Mark for a mission. It seems a number of international submersibles have disappeared into a deep oceanic trench, so Mark agrees to investigate on behalf of his air-breathing benefactress.
          He dives into the trench and discovers that a brilliant madman, Mr. Schubert (Victor Buono), has captured the missing vessels, pillaged them for parts, and brainwashed the crew members, all in pursuit of a loopy master plan. In other words, the plot is standard comic-book fare, and as such it’s best not to investigate the particulars too closely. That said, Man from Atlantis has drive and focus, moving at an assured but unhurried pace and featuring such soft-spoken characters that it’s a refreshing change from the usual histrionics of fantasy television. It helps, a lot, that Oscar-winning composer Fred Karlin contributes an atmospheric score and that much of the picture takes place underwater, lending a sense of grandeur.
          Sure, there’s a lot of silliness onscreen, like the bit in which Mark races a dolphin across a pool before leaping out of the pool and grabbing a fish from the dolphin’s human trainer, and the miniature FX for submarine scenes aren’t exactly top-shelf. But the main character is inherently interesting—the last of his kind, and all that—and the script, by Mayo Simon, presents outrageous concepts in such a matter-of-fact fashion that it’s easy to relax and enjoy the ride. None of the actors does much to get excited about, excepting the always-enjoyable Buono, who eschews his usual flamboyance for a quieter kind of menace; but then again, the wooden performances suit the piece’s unvarnished approach. FYI, an enjoyable Man from Atlantis cast reunion took place in 2012, and remarks about that event appear here(Available at

Man from Atlantis: FUNKY

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